Turkey accuses Russia of 'ethnic cleansing' in Syria

December 9, 2015, 7:54pm

dpa on News24, photo: Halil Sagirkaya, AFP

Istanbul - Russia is carrying out an "ethnic cleansing" in northern Syria against Sunni Arabs and Turkmen, Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Wednesday, as he stepped up rhetoric against Moscow.

"They want to expel, they want to ethnically cleanse this area," Davutoglu told reporters. He added that Russia wants to protect its bases and strongholds of the Syrian government.

"Their fight is not against Daesh," the prime minister said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

Tensions between Ankara and Moscow have been on the rise since November 24, when Turkey downed a Russian jet over the Turkish-Syrian border.

Moscow began flying sorties in September to prop up the government of President Bashar Assad in Damascus, whose troops had been at a disadvantage in their fight against rebel groups.

Most of Russia's airstrikes appear to be targeting these rebels, including hardline Islamic groups, like Ahrar al-Sham and al-Nusra Front.

Some Russian strikes have hit Turkmen militias, who have ties to Turkey, in addition to having fought alongside other rebels.

Turkey is a staunch supporter of various Syrian rebel groups fighting Assad, mostly comprised of Sunni Arabs.

Some of the government strongholds sit in the Latakia and Tartus coastal regions, where Assad's family originates. Russia has a key naval base in the area.

Russia has accused Turkey of enabling ISIS to smuggle oil and fund itself, charges that Ankara denies.

Turkey for years had a porous border with Syria, which was often used by militants to cross in and out of the country, though there have been signs in recent months the army has stepped up security.

However, the US, a key Turkish ally, has admitted the border to areas in Syria controlled by ISIS is still not sealed off.